Using Questions to Inform Your Content Strategy: A Guide

It can be really hard to think of content topics to inform a content strategy, especially when you’ve been working at it for a long time. But wouldn’t it be awesome if we could get these ideas directly from our audience without having to pay for expensive surveys or focus groups? Well, actually you can.

Your audience and customers are constantly asking questions online that relate to your key topics, product or service, and these questions will form a perfect content strategy for you as you know it’s of genuine interest to the audience.

Here I’ll outline all the different sources we use for mining questions and then how we use these question to form the strategy.

Step 1: Mining for questions

Before you start mining for questions, set up a master spreadsheet for yourself where you can paste the questions you find in one column and also write the source in the next column so you remember where the question came from.

Search Analytics (Google Search Console): Within Google Search Console you have access to your ‘Search Analytics’ report which is essentially the queries that your site has appeared for – but not necessarily where a user has clicked on your result.

Log in to Search Console > Select site > Search Traffic > Search Analytics

You can either download this report or filter directly in Search Console to find all the queries that are questions, then add these to your master spreadsheet.

Search terms reports (Google AdWords): If you use Google AdWords to drive traffic to your site you’ll have access to the search terms report (if you don’t have direct access, ask your paid team to at least send you the report). This report shows you all the search terms that people have used where one of your ads has been triggered. Your ads should only be showing for relevant keywords to your company, therefore any questions in this report should be relevant to you.

Log in to AdWords > All Campaigns > Keywords > Search terms

Again, you can download this report and then filter to find all the queries that are questions, then add these to your master spreadsheet.

People also ask (Google search): This is probably the simplest way to find questions people are searching for but the least scalable as it’s a very manual process. The box won’t appear for all searches, but for some searches, you’ll get a ‘People also ask’ box which is fairly self-explanatory – it’s questions people also ask in addition to the one you’ve asked.

For this, you simply need to perform a Google search and scroll down the first page and see if the box appears. Once you click to expand one question it will add more questions within the box as well. Paste these into your master spreadsheet.

Answer the Public: Answer the Public is a really useful (free) tool that lets you enter a topic and it will then generate a report for you of what people are searching for in Google around that topic.

Answer the Public > *enter topic* > Get Questions

Again, this can be exported and the questions then added into your master spreadsheet.

Your own site: If you have site search set up on your website, this is another excellent source of questions.

First of all, ensure you have site search set up for reporting within Google Analytics – here’s Google’s guide on setting it up.

Google Analytics > Behaviour > Site Search > Search Terms

Again, you can download this report then filter for questions to add to your master spreadsheet. If you’re an advanced GA user (or have one in your team), you can use RegEx to filter just for questions before you export the report to save filtering afterward.

Other sites: If people can’t find an answer to their question through Google or it requires an in-depth answer, they’ll often to turn to other websites with communities that will answer their question. Again, these sites can be mined to find the questions being asked about your topic/product/service.

Buzzsumo has a feature called ‘Question Analyzer’ which allows you to input a topic and it will then return questions asked about that topic across Forums, Ecomm sites, Q&A sites (like Quora) and Reddit. This is awesome as it saves your trawling all of these sites individually.

Buzzsumo > Content Research > Question Analyzer

You can filter by a specific date range and export the report (all questions) to then add to your master spreadsheet.

You can also use Twitter search to see if people are asking any questions about your topic/product/service on Twitter.

Twitter advanced search > All of these words > *enter topic of interest plus ?* > Search

This is a manual process of scrolling to find any relevant questions and adding these to your master spreadsheet.

Customer service/sales teams: Finally, one of the most useful sources of questions your prospects/customers have is your customer service and sales teams. If people are actually taking the time to call or email someone with their question, then you know they’re invested in the answer. These are perhaps the most engaged questions of all.

Arrange some time either to sit down with them and ask them to talk you through the most common queries they get (I record this so I can type up later) or ask if they mind emailing you over the common questions they get asked. The face-to-face approach is nice as it helps to build a relationship with these teams and sometimes it can be quicker for them to say the questions to you than for them to spend time typing them up for you.

This is especially good for your company as answering questions through your website is a lot cheaper than paying a customer service advisor to answer it over the phone/email/live chat.

Step 2: Forming your strategy

If you’ve used some or all of the above sources then your master spreadsheet should have a lot of questions in there now, next step is to narrow these down into the ones you actually want to address.

The first step is to remove any duplicates in Excel, then go through them all and see which apply to your product/service as, no matter what source (aside from customer service/sales teams), you will probably have some irrelevant ones in there to get rid of.

As you’re working through it may also be useful to start grouping the questions together. For example, are there multiple questions around price, or sizing, or whatever is relevant for your industry? Also, try to assign a priority score to the question or group to determine how soon content should be produced, so for example 1 could mean content needs producing within the next two weeks where 5 means within the next six months.

Now ask yourself the following questions:

From this, you should have your content strategy easily divided into two types of content: content that needs reformatting or more detail added in order to surface for questions, and brand new content to be written.

How to Facilitate the Return of Storytelling in Advertising

Storytelling in advertising is nothing new. From the eighties’ Nescafe Gold Blend commercials featuring the romance of Tony and Sharon to the noughties’ BT family ads that followed the domestic trials of Adam and Jane, the most memorable TV campaigns took years to build characters that audiences could relate to and care about.

But the art of storytelling is disappearing. Creators of TV ads such as the John Lewis Always a Woman, and more recently the Subaru Forrester ad, understand its importance but feel the need to tell the entire story in one episode, without taking viewers on the journey with them. And, in digital advertising, where storytelling has been largely absent from the start, the situation is far worse – with users bombarded across multiple devices with repetitive, intrusive messaging that lacks authentic narrative.

Consumers crave content that entertains them, educates them, or inspires them. They want to feel emotions, to smile, laugh, cry, or dream. Rather than being something they need to ‘sit through’ to access quality content, can advertising itself be original content consumers seek out, care about, and engage with?

It could be argued technological developments have had an adverse impact on advertising, particularly with digital where execution has often taken precedence over creativity. But technology can also be an enabler of engaging storytelling across multiple platforms. Here are three trends that are facilitating a return to creative brand storytelling:

The rise of programmatic creative

Early automation of advertising may have temporarily side-lined creativity, but advances in programmatic creative encourage data and creative to work together in a way that promotes brand storytelling. Programmatic creative allows messaging to be sequenced so it takes the viewer on a journey, rather than serving the same ad over and over, and enables brands to update messaging in real time to keep it fresh and relevant.

What’s more, programmatic creative facilitates the instant production of thousands of creative iterations, so the version most appropriate for each specific consumer can be served; taking into account their location, preferences, device, and position on the path to purchase, as well as numerous other data points. A continuous optimization loop uses real-time measurement to ensure personalized creative is as impactful and engaging as possible, boosting ad performance, increasing ROI, and making brand stories more relevant and contextual.

The return of storytelling

Today’s consumer uses an average of 3 connected devices, and multiple platforms – so brands need to ensure they are able to tell their story seamlessly across all channels. At a basic level, the creative must automatically optimize to the screen or device on which it is served – simply scaling down a TV commercial or desktop ad and delivering it to a smartphone is detrimental to the user experience.

But more than this, brands must understand that the storytelling format is perfect for the digital age, where each device, platform, and ad format can make its own unique contribution to the total narrative. The highly engaged and interactive nature of mobile devices makes them ideal for involving consumers in the story and allowing them to influence its progression. As far back as 2005, BT received over 1.6 million Facebook votes to determine the next development in the Adam and Jane storyline – so just imagine what is possible in today’s real-time, continually connected world. When brands build a story gradually across multiple complementary channels, consumers engage with the characters and the worlds they inhabit, increasing brand awareness and affinity.

The growing demand for industry standards

Digital advertising is evolving rapidly, and highly immersive and engaging ad formats are continually emerging to support brand storytelling. But standards and measurement techniques have failed to keep pace with this evolution, particularly regarding viewability and effectiveness, which has restricted adoption of new and innovative formats. After all, brands can’t be expected to invest in advertising if they don’t truly understand its ROI.

But industry standards are catching up with innovation; for example, the IAB’s latest standard ad portfolio includes multi-screen sizing and provides guidelines for newer experiences such as augmented and virtual reality, as well as 360-degree video. Other industry guidelines, such as LEAN and the Coalition for Better Ads, are designed to improve the user experience across all devices, making it easier for brands to deliver engaging storytelling through user-friendly formats.

Storytelling may be nothing new, but it’s something all brands must revisit. With programmatic creative delivering personalised hyper-relevant messaging, multi-device advertising providing opportunities for added depth and interactivity. And, with improving industry standards encouraging the adoption of innovative formats, there’s really no reason today’s advertisers can’t return to engaging brand storytelling. The end.

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